Robert BonnieThe U.S. Secretary of Agriculture’s Deputy Secretary of Agriculture for Production and Preservation sees a move forward in agriculture when farmers are paid not only for what they grow, but also for how they grow it.
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a “Climate Smart Partnership” pilot program, the department partnered with Commodity Credit Corp. to enable businesses and other organizations to create voluntary market incentives on arable land to measure, quantify and test. which reduces or minimizes emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases. Among the goals is the prospect of an award for how manufacturers grow their products, which could include a potential USDA label.
There has already been a lot of attention to criticism and rebuff from Republican lawmakers who argue that the USDA is going beyond a program that pulls money out of Commodity Credit Corp. its benefits. The USDA will need to move quickly to fund projects, given that the last time the Minister of Agriculture Tom Wilsac used CCC funds in a way that upset Republicans that they limited his ability to use the fund when taken under Congress control.
However, support for the new pilot program came from a long list of groups, including the American Farmers’ Bureau, the National Farmers’ Union, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Milk Producers Federation, the National Council of Farmers’ Cooperatives, and as such groups like the Conservation and the Walton Family Foundation.
In an interview with DTN, Bonnie stressed the USDA’s mantra that the new program focuses on “voluntary incentive-based efforts led by producers” around climate change. In building the partnership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture focused on producers through a public discussion period last spring around a climate-friendly approach, including adopting a strategy for a pilot program promoted by the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA), a collection of more than 80 agricultural and environmental groups. .
“And that’s what there is. We think we have a lot of interest from the producers, ”Bonnie said. “We believe that extending it from thinking simply about absorbing carbon and carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and turning it into a broader rule regarding climate-friendly goods will allow for greater participation.”
Among the criticisms of the partnership is that producers don’t just go to the local office of the Agricultural Services Agency to sign up for it. Instead, this week the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a grant notice seeking applications from businesses, groups, state and local governments or tribes for projects under individual tranches. The first, scheduled for April 8, includes projects that could range from $ 5 million to potentially $ 100 million. The second pool of funding is allocated for smaller projects from $ 250,000 to $ 4.9 million, to be implemented on May 27.
“So the problem is that if you’re an individual producer, it’s harder for you to think about how you’re involved in these broad markets when you’re not very big,” Bonnie said.
“How do you measure or control? How do you know what practices apply? The idea here is that power is in numbers. Allowing people to bring together producers – be it a commodity group, a conservation area, a university that allocates land, a conservation group – this will actually allow for greater involvement of small and medium producers because it allows them to allocate measurement costs, allows they have easier access to information and technical assistance. “
By working through aggregators rather than individual farmers or ranchers, the USDA sees the possibility of involving more producers, Bonnie said. “Whether the dairy producers work together, or what you see as working with cotton producers to create sustainable cotton and this work, we believe there are some places where there are projects with people that bring people together manufacturers in a way that actually makes it easier and more cost effective ”.
As an example, the editor of Progressive Farmer Crops Matthew Wilde wrote in November last year that cotton growers earn a $ 2.50 bonus per cotton bale for hectares participating in BASF’s e3 cotton sustainability program.
See “Sustainable cotton is the future of the industry” here.
When seeking projects for funding, the USDA will focus on making sure the money provided goes to manufacturers participating in a particular program. This will be part of the criteria when the USDA starts ranking projects. Bonnie added that the aggregator may not get good scores if his project simply focuses on the cost of reducing greenhouse gases.
“It limits your ability to think creatively about how to attract more producers and how to ensure that dollars hit the ground.” He added: “There is a concern in rural areas – be it the carbon market or something else – to make sure that resources do come down to earth.”
Expanding the project to include climate-friendly goods allows for greater participation, and creates a strategy to reward early adopters of agricultural practices such as unemployment and the use of cover crops.
“It allows us to work in those parts of the country where they may not be going to absorb as much carbon, but their involvement on a large number of acres can be really beneficial,” Bonnie said. “And so the idea is to enable more creativity in a way that will allow more producers to participate and benefit more.”
DTN highlighted the challenges faced by first-time users who may grow up in arid areas when conditions could lead to less carbon sequestration. See “Smart agricultural climate on the plains” here.
Midwestern growers who have engaged in zero-tillage or used cover crops over the past decade or more may show less “additionality” to carbon credits right now, but there are supply chain companies that seek to highlight “soybean tributaries,” so the focus it may not be so much about reflecting further emission reductions as about maintaining such agricultural practices.
“We’ve heard a lot of interest from people who grow arable crops, especially corn and soybeans, to recognize early supporters because so many people use tillage as incentives,” Bonnie said. “So if you’re selling climate-friendly soy, the supply chain may not be interested specifically in the amount of carbon, but they may be interested in the fact that it’s a sustainably produced product.”
Others who could benefit could be farmers who sell corn to ethanol producers who seek to reduce the carbon intensity in their products by measuring the carbon footprint on the farm. Dairy producers are working to manage manure in such a way as to reduce the carbon footprint of milk and other dairy products.
“It’s been talked about among some people, and there may be interest there,” Bonnie said.
As for forestry, there are projects by groups such as Conservation and the American Forest Fund that are looking for ways to unite landowners who have small tracts of wooded land, or farmers who deal with trees. These groups are interested in the environmental friendliness of wood products and in being able to reach outside investors on their land who may want to finance greener investments, Bonnie said.
“This is one place where there has been some interest, and even among some major forest owners,” he said, adding, “In the context of the public commentary period, many similar ideas have emerged; and so we think there will be a lot of interest and there will be quite a variety of projects. ”
See “USDA Promotes Climate-Smart Products” for more information. here.
Also, “The Deputy Secretary of Defense Defends New USDA Partnership on Climate-Smart Goods.” here.
Chris Clayton can be contacted at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN
https://agfax.com/2022/02/12/usdas-partnership-for-climate-smart-ag-dtn/ USDA Partnership for Climate-Smart Ag – DTN – AgFax